Value studies are a great way to begin a new painting as they will provide you with a guide for how to arrange values and shapes, in order to find the best possible composition. You can either make these studies in paint or as a drawing. This lesson will cover how to produce a value study in oil.
- Small canvas or a panel prepared for painting
- 2-3 different sized brushes
- Raw Umber oil paint
- Thinner (I recommend odourless mineral spirits (OMS) for oil paint)
- Painting rag or kitchen paper towel for wiping back and cleaning
- Ideally, I’d like you to use the value scale as a reference
- Sketch in the main shapes lightly with charcoal or a permanent pen, you can either work from life or a reference. Use sight-size or comparative measurement to get your proportions and shapes right. It doesn’t need to be too detailed as you can embellish things in paint.
- Once the drawing is loosely sketched in, you can begin adding the darkest shapes with pure raw umber. Try to use a larger brush than you think is necessary.
- Once the darkest shapes are in place, add lighter shapes using Raw Umber thinned with odourless mineral spirits (OMS). The more thin the paint is, the more transparent and light your brushstrokes will be.
- If necessary, wipe the paint off with OMS to lighten anything that has become too dark. You can wipe lines using a thin clean brush dipped in spirits or wipe off larger areas using a rag dipped in OMS.
- Add as much detail as you like, but only use raw umber to darken and wipe back to lighten.
- I recommend using a value scale as a reference for the value relationships.
A Value Study in Practice
An example of a finished portrait by John Singer Sargent next to his value study for the painting.